from Bassett, Brash & Hide

For 30 years, climate campaigners have promoted haste and panic – using terms like emergency, irreversible, crisis, 11th hour, 50 days left, pending apocalypse, etc, etc.

Here is a collection of notably wild predictions from notable people in government and science. Every one of them has turned out to be wrong – in spades.

What’s the hurry? Seriously? It’s a very important question in which billions – nay trillions of dollars – are at stake. In getting to the bottom of this never-ending refrain, one needs to deconstruct the shouty rhetoric that so often obscures the issues that really matter.

The ‘Earth Summit’ Convention
In modern media-speak “climate change” means human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming[1] (AGW). And “climate crisis” means that dangerous anthropogenic global warming, or DAGW (the insiders’ acronym) is imminent.

DAGW is the single most important diplomatic/legal concept in the sphere of climate policy. The Kyoto Protocol (1997), the Paris Agreement (2015), and the huge annual Conferences of Parties (COPs) are all convened under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 UNFCCC Treaty) which was first adopted at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ and has since been formally ratified by every country in the world.[2] This is the legally binding and enforceable foundation of all climate policy everywhere.

The Earth Summit was a watershed event, directed to the reconciliation of global economic development with protection of the natural environment. It was the largest gathering of world leaders in history, with 117 heads of government in attendance. It brought together official representatives of 178 nations, who pondered and meticulously negotiated successive drafts of a Convention which could eventually become a binding international treaty. Every word mattered, if a consensus was to be wrought.

Article 2 of the final treaty provides: [emphasis added]
The ultimate objective of this Convention is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

The Convention does not condemn or criticise atmospheric greenhouse gases in general – instead, it emphasises the need to ensure that they do not rise to “dangerous” levels. Few could disagree with that.

Where is the disagreement?
It used to be said that “97% of climate scientists agree with climate change”. That claim was overy modest. I’m confident that at least 99% of climate scientists (and most other people) would agree with all of the following propositions:
• “the climate” is a long-term (30 years+) trend in historical weather data (temperature, precipitation, wind, etc) within any defined climate region
• the climate is constantly changing in every climate region (as it always has). These changes are chaotic, non-linear and essentially unpredictable
• carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) warm the atmosphere – in a logarithmically diminishing sequence
• the global mean surface temperature (GMST) has increased by about 1°C during the 150 years between 1870[3] and 2020
• during 1870 – 2020, atmospheric CO2 increased from about 300 ppm to 400 ppm and most of that increase was caused by human activities
• the partial correlation between the human-related 1870-2020 increase of CO2 and the 1°C of warming suggests (without proving) a causal connection

So, there is no serious dispute that some AGW has likely occurred in the past 150 years and may very well occur for some time into the future. To that extent, almost all protagonists are on the same page. The mass media’s endless pursuit of ‘climate denialists’ sets up straw men and is mainly political theatre. The real key questions are: how much AGW is happening? Is it trivial or is it dangerous?

The disputants
There are essentially three schools of thought on whether AGW is “dangerous”:

1. The Alarmists — who have no doubt that AGW is already dangerous and becoming ever more so to the point of posing an existential threat and even creating “global boiling”. This is by far the most numerous, wealthiest and loudest group. It includes well-known politicians and billionaires[4], the WEF, the UN, the mass media, academia, the finance industry and many thousands of professional campaigners.
2. The UN Scientists – who have no position on the point, rightly considering the term “dangerous” to be value-laden and non-scientific. This school is Working Group 1 (WG1) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose consensus assessment reports on “The Physical Science” have always been the official ‘gold standard’ source of scientific advice to the UNFCCC and to world governments. Their Sixth Assessment Report (AR6)[5] (pp147 – 2339) was tabled in 2021.
3. The Sceptics — who dismiss the notion that AGW is or will become dangerous at foreseeable levels. They contend that much of the observed warming since the Little Ice Age is the result of natural variance — oscillations, cycles, earth orbits, ocean currents, volcanoes, cosmic dust, solar magnetics, etc. They include some of the world’s most distinguished physicists[6] and Nobel laureates. As their work is largely ostracised by academia and the mass media, much of it is to be found in the blogosphere.

Meaning of “dangerous”
The UNFCCC carefully defines “dangerous” in Article 2:
Such a level [of atmospheric GHGs] should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

So, “danger” occurs only if the pace of human-caused temperature changes (AGW) were to exceed the Earth’s ability to adapt to them.

What is the rate-of-change of AGW? Unfortunately, the metrics can deal only in averages. At any given time, thousands of the grid cells in any global climate model (GCM) will show a wide range of warming trends, whilst almost as many are displaying cooling trends. Subtracting the aggregate of the latter from the former provides a notional “global mean” of of the trends occurring in multiple disparate climate regions.

The statistical artefact which is called ”global warming” is the tiny difference between these two large numbers.

Then comes an even more difficult question: how much of this statistical global warming is anthropogenic? UN scientists say “most” or “more than half” – but this estimate is unfortunately based on their ‘expert judgment’, as no hard evidence is available.

This difficulty arises because the mandate of the UN Scientists is restricted to “anthropogenic” warming and does not allow them to research natural climatic variance – or even natural forcings such as the Hunga-Tonga volcano. Thus they have no means of quantifying or predicting all of the natural temperature changes which are always either exacerbating or offsetting AGW.

Pace of adaptation
The Convention spells out that mitigation (of greenhouse warming) and adaptation to such warming are intertwined, rather than being diverse/alternative approaches. They are the two sides of the same coin. To the extent that the Earth and its denizens are able to adapt to any particular temperature level, then mitigation to reduce that level becomes otiose.

There is nothing special about a GMST of 16°C. Two of the most successful human populations on earth live permanently in Norway – with an annual MST (mean surface temperature) of 0.75°C – and in Singapore, which has a MST of 27.7°C. Clearly, the ability to adapt is everything!

In the case of humans, adaptation generally means steps to build resilience. We can combat heat waves with air-conditioning, sea-level rise by sea walls, flooding by efficient drainage systems. The key to resilience is the availability of funds and expertise, which are in turn dependent on economic development and growth.

Slow Migration
Small temperature changes can have only limited impacts on natural ecosystems because most plants, insects, birds, fish and other animals can readily migrate short distances to compensate. Mean temperatures vary in direct proportion to change in latitude and elevation, as La Sorte et al (2014) reported:

Outside the tropics, average annual temperature declines on average 0.7°C for each degree of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere and on average 0.5°C for each degree of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. With one degree of latitude equal to approximately 111 km, this translates to a decline of 1°C for every 150 km in the Northern Hemisphere and a decline of 1°C for every 197 km in the Southern Hemisphere.

UN Scientists tell us that the Earth has warmed by about 1.1°C over 150 years. NH ecosystems that migrated northwards by an average of 11 kilometres/decade would (on average) have experienced no need to adapt at all. Within the generality of changes that are constantly occurring in the natural world, such a minor average rate of re-location is quite undemanding.

In the vast taxonomy of the biosphere and hydrosphere, there are bound to be some organisms that are failing to adapt or migrate seamlessly and are ceding their place to competitors. But it was ever thus. The UN Scientists have not yet identified any rate-of-change of GMST which has already overtaken, or will inevitably overtake, the adaptation capacity of any specific species.

Food production
The sole “danger” singled out for mention in the UNFCCC is the production of food. Agriculture’s dependence on climate has been well appreciated since it was first developed by humankind about 10,000 years ago, and it is no surprise that fear of famine lies at the heart of the “dangerous” concept.

This central concern has been passed down to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which has the stated purpose of “enhancing the implementation of the UNFCCC objective”. After reciting “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger”, Article 2(b) enjoins the parties to:
“…foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production.” It is noteworthy that the Convention singles out famine alone as the predominant potential danger from excessive AGW. Extreme weather events are omitted, presumably because the UN Scientists have always understood that any causal connection with AGW is highly tenuous…. More on this later.

Economic development
The fundamental importance of sustainable economic development is also singled out for emphasis. Even if development should cause additional AGW, that increment will be sustainable (ie non-dangerous) as long as we are capable of adapting to it.

This provision recognises that policies to avert DAGW can be extremely expensive, while the Convention’s recitals also expressly recognise “the imperative of the eradication of poverty”. Climate policies inevitably come at the expense of other desirable publicly-funded policies within the fields of healthcare, education, etc and can hugely exaggerate the economic inequality which already exists within and between countries.

As mentioned below, a global policy of Net Zero by 2050 is estimated to cost the developed world (1.1 billion people) the unspeakable additional sum of US$105 trillion!!

Is DAGW happening?
The data speaks for itself. We know that eco-systems have had no difficulty in adapting to the observed gradual GMST trend of about 0.13°C/decade (which is the surface-based metric over the last 50 years, as well as the satellite metric since 1979). During the past half-century, world population has more than doubled, with life expectancy increasing by eight years for women and nine years for men, while measured world poverty has been slashed.

Food production has more than tripled while agricultural land use has increased by less than 15%. Economic development has proceeded at the fastest pace in human history while most environmental indicators have also improved.

Evidently, all ecosystems can cope perfectly well with the current rate of change[7] and, contrary to campaigners’ tales, global populations of polar bears, penguins and people are all advancing apace.

We can be confident that the current GMST trend is not ‘dangerous’.

Will DAGW happen in future?
It is of course possible that some ecosystems might struggle to adapt as GMST continues to inch upwards in future decades. But there appears to be no advance warnings or other evidence that any significant change is pending.

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Barry Brill OBE JP LL.M(Hons) M.Com Law was the MP for Kapiti 1975–1981 and Minister of Energy, Petrocorp director, and chair of the Gas Council, Power NZ, ESANZ, and EMCO. He is presently the Chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.